“On the Unity of the Body and Soul: Accompanying Those Experiencing Gender Dysphoria” was released on Good Shepherd Sunday.
On Friday, Dec. 2, we received the long awaited news that Pope Francis had declared Father Stanley Rother, Oklahoma priest and missionary, a martyr of the Catholic Church. This official announcement paves the way for his eventual beatification, sometime in 2017, after which he will be known as Blessed Stanley Francis Rother. Once beatified, his name will be included in the Roman martyrology, the official list of saints and blesseds of the Catholic Church. Though this news surely has been received with tremendous rejoicing here in Oklahoma, it is a gift and blessing for our whole country and for the universal Church. Born in Okarche in 1935, ordained a priest in Oklahoma City in 1963, Father Rother eventually volunteered to serve the Oklahoma mission in Guatemala. He spent the remainder of his life, from 1968 until his death in 1981, ministering to his flock in the remote villages of Santiago Atitlan and Cerro de Oro along the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlan. Father Rother, or Padre Aplas as he was known to his Mayan parishioners, was murdered in his rectory at the parish church of Santiago Apostol on the night of July 28, 1981. Though Father Rother has been officially recognized as a martyr, he was one of many who suffered for their faith during those troubled times in Guatemala. What led to his martyrdom was his refusal to leave his flock untended during a time of terrible persecution when he witnessed many of his parishioners being kidnapped and murdered. This declaration of martyrdom is especially significant for the Church in Guatemala, which endured years of violent persecution during its long brutal civil war. Father Rother’s holiness and heroic witness was immediately recognized by his beloved parishioners, who refused to let his body be taken from them and returned to Oklahoma for burial. The fortuitous decision was made to leave his heart in Santiago Atitlan where it has been enshrined and venerated in the parish church and among the parishioners for whom he gave his life and shed his blood. His reputation for holiness and the manner of his life and death eventually led Archbishop Eusebius Beltran to open the cause for his canonization in 2007. The diocesan phase of that effort was concluded in 2010. Since that time, the cause for Servant of God Father Stanley Rother has been in the hands of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Their decision to recommend Father Rother to Pope Francis as a martyr, having truly been killed out of hatred for the faith, is what has led to this announcement. I am grateful to Archbishop Beltran and to the many members of the archdiocesan commission and staff who labored to gather the testimony of dozens of witnesses here in Oklahoma as well as in Guatemala and elsewhere, and who prepared the documentation required for this important cause to advance. It has been a labor of love for many. Father Rother now has been declared a martyr. He is the first U.S. born martyr, and the first U.S. born priest who has been approved for beatification. His beatification ceremony will take place here in Oklahoma City. We are awaiting information and instructions on how to proceed toward that wonderful day for the Church in Oklahoma and beyond. Once beatified, our task on Father Rother’s behalf is not complete. In order for him to be canonized as a saint of the Catholic Church, a miracle must be attributed to his intercession. Such miracles are usually medical miracles, that is, healings that cannot be explained by medical science. Up to this time we have been praying for Father Rother’s beatification; now while continuing to pray for his canonization, we can seek his intercession and assistance to obtain heavenly favors for ourselves and for our loved ones. Father Rother is being offered to the whole Church as a witness to the Gospel and to the power of God’s grace in our lives. He was an ordinary man, from an ordinary Catholic family. He responded to God’s call to the priesthood and to missionary labors in a foreign land. It was his fidelity to grace that enabled him to become all that God desired for him. I pray that his witness will inspire many young men to be open to God’s call to the priesthood and all of the faithful to realize that holiness is nothing more, and nothing less than the full flowering of our baptismal grace. We are all called to become saints. This Column first ran in Sooner Catholic on December 11th, 2016.
In April, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case out of Oklahoma (Glossip v. Gross) that challenges the widely used lethal injection protocol in carrying out the death penalty. This comes a year after the high profile flawed execution of convicted killer Clayton Lockett. At that time, I called for a reexamination of the use of the death penalty in our state and a moratorium that might lead ultimately to its abolition.I want to reaffirm my opposition to the use of the death penalty and call upon Catholics, and all people of Oklahoma, to work together toward the abolition of the death penalty in our state. Let us pray together that the court’s review will lead to a recognition that this form of institutionalized violence against persons is not in the best interest of the state, and is ultimately harmful to society because it further erodes respect for the dignity of the human person.In turning away from the use of the death penalty, we do not withdraw any measure of our support and concern for the victims of heinous crimes, nor the families of murder victims. They deserve our support and await justice. But, taking the life of a guilty person does not restore the loss of a loved one, nor does it honor their memory. The death penalty only further erodes our respect for the sanctity of life. It coarsens our culture and diminishes our humanity.Catholics have fought against the use of the death penalty for decades. In his encyclical letter called the “Gospel of Life,” which he published in 1995, Saint John Paul II clearly articulates the Church’s nuanced position on this sensitive issue. Acknowledging the state’s right to the death penalty as a matter of society’s self-defense, he emphasized that with other secure and non-lethal means of protecting the innocent now available, instances where the use of the death penalty are justified “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” The pope amended the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church to reflect this de facto prohibition against the use of the death penalty (CCC 2263-2267). This past October, Pope Francis called on “Christians and all people of good will” to fight “for the abolition of the death penalty in all its forms.”There also are numerous practical reasons for seeking the abolition of capital punishment; among them are cost and potential innocence. First, the process of capital punishment is extremely expensive, and resources spent on the appeal process for condemned criminals could be spent on crime prevention and restorative justice for those convicted of lesser crimes. Second, there is the real possibility of condemning the wrong person. For example, DNA evidence, unavailable only a few years ago, has led to at least 25 exonerations of those who had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. This certainly should give us pause when considering the unimaginable injustice of mistakenly executing an innocent man or woman. Though the moral weight of capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, war and human trafficking may differ, they are all fundamental life issues. At a moment when the tide of violence is rising globally and we are witnessing inhumane atrocities committed daily by violent extremists, our moral opposition to these acts, and credibility as witnesses to the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person will be enhanced immeasurably if we can unite our voices in rejecting the use of the death penalty here in Oklahoma and throughout the United States of America.
I first became acquainted with the life of Father Stanley Rother when I was a seminarian at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. Shortly after our return to the seminary in the fall of 1981, we gathered at St. John’s Well to place a bronze plaque in a garden that seminarian Stan Rother used to tend while he was a student at the Mount in the early 1960s. His parents, Franz and Gertrude, and his blood sister, Sister Marita, honored us by their presence that autumn afternoon. That visit took place only a few months after Father Rother had been brutally slain in the rectory at his parish of Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala on July 28, 1981. It was one of the first of many public testimonials that would follow through the years bearing witness to the faith and heroic pastoral charity of this dedicated priest, missionary and martyr of Oklahoma. Since that day I have always experienced the attraction of Father Stanley Rother. When I first learned that I had been appointed Archbishop of Oklahoma City, even before it had been made public, I made a personal pilgrimage to Father Rother’s home parish in Okarche to pray at a shrine in his memory on the beautiful grounds of Holy Trinity Parish. I asked his intercession to help me be a good shepherd, as he had been a good shepherd. When Father Rother had learned that his life was in danger from the civil war raging around him, a brutal war that had already claimed the lives of many of his poor parishioners, he chose not to abandon his flock. “A shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger,” he had said.For the last several months I have been writing on various aspects of the call to holiness. As baptized members of the Church, we are all called to be holy. We are called to become saints. Our generous response to this call is fanned into flame when we experience holiness in others. We need guides to give us hope and encouragement. The saints provide us with real flesh and blood evidence that holiness is possible in every walk of life. They show us what a human life fully transformed by the power of grace and conformed to Christ looks like. Father Stanley Rother has been such a guide for me. The life of Servant of God Father Stanley Rother is currently under investigation by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. After further exhaustive study, this congregation will recommend to the Holy Father whether or not Father Rother is worthy to be declared a martyr and saint of the Church. Last month I had the privilege of traveling as a pilgrim to Santiago Atitlan with 38 others from Oklahoma and Arkansas to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the death of Father Stanley, or Padre A’Plas, as the native Tzutuhil called him. Like everyone in our group, I was struck by the stunning beauty of the cloud-shrouded volcanic mountains of those Guatemalan highlands, by the crystal waters of Lake Atitlan, and especially by the beautiful smiles of the children. But what was most clear and striking to me was the fervent faith of the parishioners, and the beautiful evidence of their devotion to their beloved pastor, Padre A’Plas, who laid down his life for his flock. Tertullian, an early Christian writer, wrote, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” It will be up to the Holy Father to determine whether one day we can officially honor Father Stanley Rother with the title of saint and martyr, but there is no doubt in my mind that the blood he shed in laying down his life for his flock, continues to bring forth good fruit and an abundant harvest of faith.Reprinted with permission from the Sooner Catholic.